Greatest Detective Agency in the World
BY CHARLES FRANCIS BOURKE, IN STRAND MAGAZINE.
Pinkerton is a name that is to-day almost synonomous with detective. So far-reaching and so infallible are the powers of the great detective agency that to say a Pinkerton man has been employed on a case means almost certain discovery of guilt. The agency was founded by Allan Pinkerton, a Scotchman, in 1859, and since then lias grown to large proportions. The article recounts the details of one of the most remarkable captures it ever effected.
"PINKERTON’S” may fairly be described as the greatest detective agency in the world. From its headquarters in New York its feelers extend not only over America, but throughout the remotest parts of Europe and Asia. Its expert detectives number many hundreds, and remarkable indeed has been their share in tracking culprits to their doom and in unravelling the mysteries of crime. It is the aim of the present article to give some account of the rise and history of this great agency, and of some of the celebrated cases in which it has employed its skill to pursue the guilty and to assist the hand of justice.
The agency was founded by Allan Pinkerton in the year 1859. It will be interesting to believers in heredity, and especially to those of our own country, to note that Allan Pinkerton’s father was a sergeant of
police at Glasgow, where the future E
father of detectives was born, in 1819. It cannot be said, however, that young Allan received from his father any training in his future profession, for, while he was still a young lad, the “physical force” men of the revolutionary Chartists of those days killed Sergeant Pinkerton, and left the care of his family on the shoulders of Allan and his brother Robert. The young Allan learned the trade of a cooper—which some wag has pointed out is the next thing to that of a copper—and worked hard at it for some strenuous years. Finally, in 1842, when he had reached the age of twenty-three, and circumstances had relieved him of the care of his father’s family, he took two important and decisive steps. He married on one day, and on the next he started with his wife for Canada. His idea was that he was going to find a better place to work at his trade of coopering. As
a matter of fact, he was going to meet a very different destiny. By way of foretaste to a stormy and adventuresome life, the ship on which the Pinkertons sailed was wrecked on Sable Island. But the young Scotsman and his wife escaped, and made their way by schooner around the great lakes to Detroit, and thence in a mover’s wagon to the swampy little prairie village of Chicago. Necessity helped him to find immediate employment at the work of making barrels in a Chicago brewery, at a wage of fifty cents a day.
Presently he found that there was a little settlement of Scots at the village of Dundee, Kane county, Illinois. It was a most natural thing that he should move to that friendly neighborhood with his wife and start a cooper’s shop of his own. And now mark how Mother Nature, having made of this man a detective, fairly drove him to taking up what she intended should be his life-work.
Cooper Pinkerton, looking about for a promising place to cut hooppoles for his shop, chanced upon Pox Island, lying in the river of the same name and not far from Dundee. The island was a sort of unclaimed noman’s-land. It was covered with a dense growth of the proper kind of timber, and there was no reason why he should not help himself. But it chanced also that these were the days of wild-cat currency. The whole country was overrun with ga¡ngs of counterfeiters, who flooded the cities with bogus bank-notes. It chanced, again—if one will have it that way —that a gang of local counterfeiters had picked out Fox Island as a lonely and inaccessible place where they could set up their printing press and do their work in complete safety. They had already taken possession
before the first trip after hoop-poles was made.
So it happened that one day Allan Pinkerton rowed out to Fox Island a cooper and came back a detective. He found himself that Summer afternoon. From that time on there was never a doubt as to the work he was to do in the world. He stayed on the island just long enough to satisfy himself that he had stumbled on a nest of counterfeiters. Then he quietly slipped back to the mainland —all the detective instinct in him aroused—and notified the sheriff of Kane county of what he had discovered. He did more than that. He became a member of the sheriff’s posse, and personally assisted in the somewhat dangerous arrest of the members of the desperate gang. In this work he showed so much bravery and so much natural skill that the grateful sheriff promptly offered him a commission as one of his deputies. And so Allan Pinkerton was first enrolled as the sworn foe of the enemies of society.
The young deputy sheriff was soon making a reputation as a detective. He had run down and captured several horsethieves and had been chiefly instrumental in the destruction of several gangs of country outlaws and the punishment of their members. Presently the sheriff of Cook couilty, in which Chicago is located, heard of the prowess of the young Scot, and offered him a place as a deputy on his staff. Here was a larger field, which Pinkerton at once accepted. A little later he was made a special agent at the post office department; then, when the police force of Chicago was put on an organized basis, he was given a position as its first and only detective.
In those days the scattered rail-
roads which ran through much wild and thinly-settled country were often the operating ground of the “holdup” men. It was to the task of prevénting crimes of this kind that. Allan Pinkerton and his men of the railroad secret service set themselves. As a result of the capture of the inen who robbed the Adams Express Company, at Montgomery, Alabama, in 1859, Allan Pinkerton was asked the next year to form a secret service on the lines of the Pennsylvania and several other eastern railroads.
In 1860 Pinkerton's operatives in Baltimore and Philadelphia learned of the existence of a plot to assassinate the President in the city of Baltimore when he reached there on his way to Washington to take the oath of office. Allan Pinkerton promptly reported the facts to friends of Lincoln in Chicago, and it was arranged that, without any public announcement, the plans should be changed and the new President practically smuggled into the capital by another route. All the arrangements were put into the hands of Pinkerton, and he successfully carried the responsibility. Without difficulty of any kind the President was safely brought to Washington and the plans of the conspirators entirely foiled. A little later President Lincoln, whose personal relations with the detective had given him great confidence in the latter’s powers, called Pinkerton to Washington and put him at the head of the National Bureau of Secret Service, under the name of Major E. J. Allan.
Then began the most adventuresome and thrilling period of Allan Pinkerton’s life. He was at the head of the detective agency which covered practically the whole coun-
try; his staff of operatives was made up of men and women who for skill, shrewdness, daring and readiness of wit have hardly ever been equalled— never surpassed; for five years many of them had daily shaken dice with death, penetrating to all parts of the hostile south, under circumstances in which a single careless word, a single moment of forgetfulness, meant the fate of a spy. For these men and women and for their chief no possible development of criminal craft or criminal violence could present new terrors.
Here is a case which shows the uncanny way in which the old-time detective went about his work. In pursuance of his regular duty, Allan Pinkerton was travelling in the south, and happened to reach a certain city on the very day when the robbery of a bank and the murder of the cashier had thrown the comx munity into wild excitement. Without revealing his identity he started to study the case, and shortly decided in his own mind that a sorqewhat prominent citizen, a friend of the cashier, who was not at all under suspicion, was in reality the guilty man. This much settled, he succeeded in getting one of his operatives introduced into the house of the suspect in the guise of a servant. For the purpose of working on the already overwrought nervous system of the suspect the operative was instructed to sprinkle on the towels, handkerchiefs, and other linen used by the man a certain perfume which had been a favorite with the murdered cashier. Through the wall of the bedroom occupied by the guilty man ran a speaking tube, the mouthpiece projecting close to the head of his bed, and through this tube the operative woke him up in the dead of the
night by agonized groans and cries formercy. These methods proved even more effective than had been anticipated. After enduring the strain for only a single night the suspect fled for parts unknown, leaving behind him virtual acknowledgment of his guilt. It was such early successes as this which firmly established the Pinkerton reputation and laid the foundations for the great business which to-day keeps an army of one thousand two hundred men and women permanently busy in the United States alone.
To tell in some detail the story of the Renos, and how they were finally run to earth and the gang broken up, may serve as a type of the Pinkerton method of dealing with the wild, night-riding desperadoes to whom murder was a pastime. Then to turn to the astounding record of the Bidwell brothers, who successfully swindled the Bank of England out of a million sterling, only to be captured and sent to prison through the exertions of the Pinkertons, will show the marvellous way in which the almost diabolic craft of another class of criminals was more than matched by the skill of the detectives.
While the Pinkertons were pitting their courage and shrewdness against the Renos and their desperate fellows on the one hand, they were also called upon to meet the infinitely more cunning and intelligent work of several bands of bank forgers and other swindlers on a large scale, of whom the Bidwell brothers—George and Austin—will always stand as the most audacious and successful.
' Austin Bidwell, the elder of the two and the man chiefly responsible for the plot which resulted in securing one million sterling from the Bank of England, was born in Brook-
lyn, N.Y. Before he was* twenty he was a prosperous broker, who made' money and spent it as easily as if it were to be picked up on the street pavement. Presently he ran foul of an unlucky speculation; at about the same time some official thieves—it was the time of Tweed, in New York —approached him with an offer to negotiate for them a large quantity of stolen bonds. Bidwell needed money badly and he readily consented. Being a man of good education and appearance and well skilled in the ways of finance, he took the bonds to Europe and there disposed of them without difficulty. His share of the booty was two thousand pounds. On his return the same band of criminals—of whom the head of the New York detective department was the chief—was ready with proposals of new swindling games, in which Bidwell was quite ready to embark. The first was an attempt to forge a will, which finally failed. But while the conspirators were waiting for the outcome of this plot, they kept themselves in ready money by forging and successfully passing at the banking house of Jay Cook & Co. a check for four thousand pounds payable to bearer. Encouraged by their easy success in this direction, they then proceeded to make, elaborate preparations for sAvindling the same banking firm out of no less than fifty thousand pounds in hard cash. The plans for this great coup were perfectly made, and would have succeeded without question had it not been for the carelessness of the plotters in leaving behind them in a restaurant a fragmentary memorandum of the proposed disposition of their booty. This fell into the hands of a city detective, who did not rest until he had warned Jay Cook &
Co., the warning coming on the very day on which the bonds were to have been delivered.
But the failure of this plan taught no lesson to the Bidwells. They simply shook off the dust of New York and sailed for Europe, there to practise their wiles on the opulent and unsuspecting bankers of the continent. With them went as a friend and fellow-conspirator a man of extraordinary ability and education, who will figure in the rest of this narrative simply as “Mac.”
Within a few weeks the three men had obtained more than twelve thousand pounds by making drafts on forged letters of credit, which were cashed by bankers in various German and French cities. Then they foregathered in London, and there, as they walked about the streets with all this ill-gotten wealth in their pockets, the daring idea came into the mind of Austin Bidwell of making a crafty assault on the Bank of England—the supposedly impregnable “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.”
But with four thousand pounds in cash as his working capital, Austin Bidwell set about solving the problem before him in a way that was as simple as it was effective. He watched the depositors at the bank until he had settled on Green & Son, a firm of rich and long-established tailors, as the most suitable for this purpose. Wearing a large, lightcolored slouch hat and otherwise made up as an American silver king, he drove up to the shop of Green & Son, and in half an hour ordered clothes to be made to the value of full two hundred pounds, giving at the same time the name of F. A. Warren and his address as the Golden Cross Hotel. The tradesmen
were properly impressed. Two weeks later Mr. Warren duplicated the order, saying at the same time that he was leaving the next week for a fortnight’s shooting with Lord Clancarty in Ireland, and would send a portmanteau for the clothes, calling for the trunk on his way from the hotel to the railway station.
By this time the thrifty tailor was almost overcome by the magnificence of his rich American patron. Mr. F. A. Warren drove up at the appointed hour, and the head of the firm came out to the carriage to meet him.
“By the way, Mr. Green,” said Mr. Warren, after the trunk had been loaded on and the new clothes paid for with a bank-note for five hundred pounds, “I have more money in my pocket than I care to carry loose. May I leave it with you ?”
“Certainly, sir,” answered the flattered Green. “How much is it ?” “About four thousand pounds—certainly not more than five thousand.” “Oh, that is more than I should care to take charge of,” stammered the tailor. “Let me introduce you to my bank.”
So easily was the thing done—the first step taken in the greatest swindling operation ever successfully undertaken.
Leaving part of the money in the Bank of England, still on deposit, the two young Americans wrote a letter from Frankfort to the manager of the Bank of England enclosing drafts for thirteen thousand pounds, which were to be deposited to the credit of Mr. F. A. Warren, the name under which Austin Bidwell had opened his account. This letter was signed with the name of a well-known Frankfort banker, who referred to Warren as his “distinguished client,” and stated that the
money had been sent him for deposit by Warren from St. Petersburg.
Then Austin Bidwell went to Paris and wrote to the manager of the Bank of England, asking his advice as to the purchase of bonds, at the same time calling attention to the fact that he was a depositor at the bank. On receipt of the letter of advice he made a check for ten thousand pounds on his account in the bank, sent it to the manager, and asked that bonds to that amount might be purchased and forwarded to his address. As soon as received the bonds were sold and the proceeds re-deposited, new bonds being immediately purchased through the agency of the manager. This process was kept up until the manager of the Bank of England was naturally convinced that Mr. F. A. Warren was an immensely wealthy man, whose patronage was well worth having. Thereupon the pseudo Warren called personally on the manager in London and succeeded in deepening the impression that he was an American millionaire.
The next step in the plot was to buy a whole series of genuine acceptances—a sort of promissory notes, due three or six months in advance—and wait until the bank had become thoroughly accustomed to Mr. Warren’s dealing in this sort of paper. This step was successfully taken.
There remained only the negotiation of the carefully-forged acceptances. In order to make detection as difficult as possible, it was arranged that Austin Bidwell, who had figured as F. A. Warren, should leave England before the first batch of forged paper was presented, and that the subsequent operations should be carried on by a man named Noyes,
who was now for the first time brought into the conspiracy, and who was introduced at the bank by Warren as his confidential clerk.
So Austin Bidwell left London two days before the fraudulent operations began, was married in Paris to a young English girl who had no suspicion of his criminal career, and started with his bride for Mexico, first securing, however, from his fellow conspirators a trifle of thirty thousand pounds in cash out of the first proceeds of their forgeries.
They stopped at the Island of Cuba and there, with youth, plenty of money, and good appearance in their favor, they soon found friends. A whole month was spent in a succession of house parties and hunting and exploring expeditions. Finally, one day Austin Bidwell picked up a copy of the New York Herald. It contained these head lines :
Amazing Fraud Upon the Bank of England.
Millions are Lost.
Great Excitement in London.
Five Thousand Pounds Reward Offered for the Arrest of the American Perpetrator, F. A.
So the secret was out ! The conspiracy was discovered. But Austin Bidwell still had no cause for fear. No person in all Europe knew his whereabouts. His real name has never been mentioned in connection with the whole conspiracy.
Two weeks more went by in pleasure. One evening Mr. and Mrs. Austin Bidwell were entertaining a large company at dinner at the house they had taken near Havana. They were paying some of their social debts.. Twenty distinguished guests were seated about the table.
Suddenly the door of the dining-
room swung open. A file of soldiers marched in. At their head was a man in citizen’s clothes. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the gay host of the evening.
“Austin Bidwell,” he said, “I arrest you on a warrant issued by the Captain-General of Cuba. I am John Curtin, of the Pinkerton force.”
The second day after Austin Bidwell left England to be married in Paris, his fellow-conspirators began to discount their forged acceptances at the Bank of England. The process proved to be astonishingly easy. Accustomed to the handling of vast sums of money, the tellers of the bank unhesitatingly passed and paid money on forged paper, which in the course of a few months netted for forgers a sum amounting to nearly a million sterling in hard cash. But now again the tiny bit of carelessness which had before foiled the plans of the plotters played its part. The date was left off one of the forged notes. This omission was noticed and the paper sent to its ostensible maker to have the error corrected. At once the forgery was discovered. The bank became the scene of terrific excitement. The whole vast conspiracy was laid bare. Noyes, the confidential clerk, came back next day to present a cheque for payment. He was arrested. George Bidwell and “Mac,” waiting outside, fled for safety. Noyes “stood pat” and declared that he was a dupe. The police had no clue. The Pinkertons were called in.
Robert Pinkerton and half-a-dozen of his shrewdest men came to London; William A. Pinkerton, John Curtin, and others operated in New York. The long, almost impossible, search began.
Through all the vast labyrinth of London the Pinkerton men patiently searched fashionable hotels and boarding-houses, picking up the scattered threads of the web. They learned that Noyes had been seen in the street with a fashionably-dressed American who answered the description of “Mac.” In a boarding-house they discovered apartments recently occupied by an American who apswered to “Mac’s” striking and handsome appearance. On a torn fragment of blotter in a waste basket they discovered the faint and reversed impression of the words :
Ten thousand pounds—
F. A. Warren.
The words on this blotter fitted exactly the bottom of one of Warren’s cheques. “Mac” was thus definitely connected with the case. His description was sent abroad over all England and the Continent. Presently Robert Pinkerton learned that “Mac” had gone to France and thence to Brussels, from which place he sailed to New York. When the steamer landed, Pinkerton men were waiting with warrants for his arrest.
In a similar roundabout and halfmiraculous way George Bidwell was identified with the crime, his whereabouts traced, and he was picked up in Ireland.
Meanwhile William A. Pinkerton and John Curtin were operating in New York. They were convinced from the first that F. A. Warren, principal in the conspiracy, being an American, must have been a resident of either Chicago or New York, else how account for his familiarity with the ways of high finance ? New York—Wall Street—seemed the most likely training school. Day after day Curtin made the rounds of brok-
er s’ offices, getting a list of young men who might possibly have been involved in such a crime. He got twenty names—narrowed it down to four, of which the name of Austin Bidwell was the first. Bidwell, he found, had made an earlier trip to Europe and had come back with plenty of money. He satisfied himself that here was his man.
In Curtin’s hearing a former acquaintance of Austin Bidwell dropped the casual remark that Bidwell always declared that wdien he got a
good bank account he should settle down in the tropics. Forthwith Curtin hurried to the east coast of Florida. From there he wrote letters to the American consuls all over the West Indies asking for the names of all rich young Americans who had recently visited the cities to which they were assigned. From Havana came back the name of Austin Bidwell. The rest was easy.
Each of the men involved in the Bank of England forgeries was sentenced to prison for life.